More Stories
The Top 22 Criminals in the NY Startup Scene

Last night I heard pitches from the most inspiring entrepreneurs I’ve ever met, and they were all convicted criminals. One spent eighteen years behind bars. Another was just released from prison four weeks ago. There were former drug dealers and gang leaders, men and women that applied hustle to the wrong professions.

A common thread amongst many of the most successful founders, whether they were raised out of poverty or privilege, is a fight to prove you’re something different than what your past would predict. These are people motivated to achieve more than their family, friends and peers could have ever expected from them. What would you expect from a convicted criminal?

Every great early stage pitch starts with the team. What if you replaced the Facebook, Google, Harvard or Stanford logos with a prison number? It’s a death sentence for a career, a past that predicts fear from any future employer, lender or investor. Pattern recognition does not bode well for any professional with a criminal history. Recidivism rates are reportedly as high as 70%. 

Catherine Hoke, a former venture capitalist, saw that problem and left Silicon Valley to solve it. Every one of the entrepreneurs in training from last night’s event is backed by Catherine and the incredible team at Defy Ventures. The organization aims to get these individuals back on track by starting their own small business.

As FlashNotes CEO Mike Matousek quoted at the end of the evening, life is 10% what happens and 90% how you react to it. The majority of convicted criminals never escape their first profession. A minority of them come out of prison with the fire to prove something to the world and to themselves. Defy Ventures was created to stoke that fire, transforming the hustle of former criminals towards life-changing entrepreneurship. It impacts not only their lives but that of their loved ones, which in many cases includes children, and our community.

Many friends from the startup world graciously shared their time last evening to provide mentorship. As one of the entrepreneurs in training said, he found it amazing that the criminals were even more nervous to meet the executive volunteers than vice versa. If you would like to volunteer to attend or host a future event, or donate to the cause, please visit

More posts are loading...